Sending out products to influencers and hoping for the best was not the road Jeffrey Serini and his partners wanted to take. Instead of pushing out great amounts of products to countless anonymous influencers, they started by getting to know the person, their lifestyle, and motivation before engaging in a cooperation with them. Thanks to this approach, the premier fitness apparel brand Paragon Fitwear has built a vast network of influencers strongly connected to the brand and seen record sales growth for several consecutive quarters.
When Paragon Fitwear started in 2013, Jeffrey Serini and his partners quickly realized the potential of working with influencers. Who can promote products fitness apparel better than people actually wearing the items on a daily basis? But the brand was so close to their heart that the founders decided to put all their effort into finding influencers who shared the values and beliefs of the brand.
The perfect fit: Identifying fitness enthusiasts
Jeffrey and his colleagues start with an initial screening phase to see whether the influencer are the right fit for the brand, both regarding content and metrics.
The brand focuses on influencers doing instructional videos in particular, as these content pieces are highly valuable for the brand’s fitness-zealous followers. And videos offer one great advantage:
Videos are a good indicator of how authentic the audience is. If an account supposedly has 300,000 followers and only 5,000 views on a video, then that is a red flag and could be a problem. While someone with 50,000 followers and 40,000 views on a video, that is fantastic!
Jeffrey highlights that the quality of content is definitely a criterion. Although the pictures do not necessarily have to be professional, good lighting, positioning and a focus on the outfit are crucial.
Paragon works with influencers with diverse reach and the metrics do not have to be picture-perfect, but there are certain things the brand is cautious about.
We always check their profiles on InfluencerDB to see whether they use some kind of automation. Automation, like follow for follow abuse, does not automatically preclude working with them, but the use of automation can distort how genuinely engaged their audience really is. We ask people point blank if they engage in follow for follow automation and most people are pretty candid about it.
The brand aims for an audience quality grade of 70% or more to ensure that the influencers have an engaged, active and interested audience. Additionally, the gender split is taken into consideration.
If a female influencer has a 95% male following, we need to evaluate whether the people follow her for the right reasons and are interested in her content or just her looks.
Speaking of looks: Jeffrey is always on the lookout for the high school cool kid who manages to influence the broader crowd.
They are good looking, they seem confident and have an extroverted personality. They are those types that drove a car in high school, and it didn’t even have to be a cool car, but because the cool kid drove it, it was considered a cool car. That is the true power of influence and those people have the power of persuasion.
Focusing on relationship building
Once an influencer is selected, the most important part of Jeffrey’s work begins: Getting to know the influencers. For this, the brand gets on a call with them and aims at connecting to the person behind the channel.
By having a personal phone call with them, we evaluate if these are the people we want to work with and if we connect on a human level. We want to build a meaningful relationship with our influencers, so we tell them a little more about Paragon, ask them about their story, how they got into fitness, what their goals are, and, thus, create a human connection. They have to believe in the message we share, this is not just business transactional.
If both sides are pleased, the next steps of the cooperation will be planned out. Jeffrey emphasizes the brand’s focus on the creative freedom of the influencers. Instead of giving them strict guidelines, the influencers are free in their wording and how they want to promote the brand and its products.
We want them to retain their voice. We follow the belief that these influencers are famous because people like them for who they are. It actually defeats our advertising efforts if we take over that voice. We want them to know that we respect our relationship and we respect that their account is their own. It is important to us that they know that we are not corporate bullies, but instead, we support them.
Transforming influencers into brand representatives
For Paragon, the cooperation does not end after one post. Each month, the brand sends products for the influencers to test as well as company updates and projects in the pipeline. Jeffrey states that he and his colleagues are genuinely interested in what the influencers are up to and they talk about competitions and events the influencers attend.
To intensify their relationship, the partners go all in when they notice that someone has exceptional potential.
There was one guy that we flew to a couple of months back. His account was growing very quickly and we could just see that he is adding tremendous value to the fitness community. What really resonated with us was that he was a really thoughtful guy and wanted to help people – that reflected well with what we were trying to do. So when we see an account that is that exceptional, we say ‘Let’s meet this guy’. That human element is highly important to us.
“We are profitable with every single influencer”
The effort Jeffrey and his partners put into the nurturing process clearly pays off. The company has a steady increase in customers, a current follower growth of 10.3% on their Instagram channel and the brand’s mentions on Instagram are increasing permanently, as indicated by the earned media value.
“We are profitable on every single influencer we work with. Some influencers are profitable in the first week, for others, it takes until we run a storewide sale and they promote a deal. One of the things that make us successful is retention. We retain at least 90% of the athletes we work with. That is a big indicator of success.”
The Brand’s Future Plans
Paragon Fitwear is currently looking for a male figurehead athlete to spearhead their efforts from the male side. The already existing female figurehead manages to attract not only followers and new customers but other successful influencers as well.
Each month, the brand adds five to six influencers to their portfolio and plans to increase their brand representatives rapidly to fuel the success of Paragon Fitwear even more.
We kindly thank Jeffrey and his partners at Paragon Fitwear for the interview!